On Wednesday, Student Senate hosted a town hall event with President Baumann, who came to address student concerns about the present and future of Ohio Northern. While the practice has been done in previous years, this was the first time for Baumann, who is new to the university. In particular, the event aims to increase the level of transparency between those in authority at ONU and the student body. Student Senate member Spencer Short says, “I think it’s always a good thing for students” to have increased contact with those running the university. Transparency has also emerged as a theme of Baumann’s administration. In case you were unable to attend, here’s a rundown of what was discussed, as well as how it is important to the university:
Being one of the most contentious items floating around campus right now, the state of Hill Memorial building was addressed both in Baumann’s opening remarks and several student questions. In light of an overwhelming concern of both students and faculty, Baumann clarified her position on the matter, saying, “I don’t hate old buildings.” Rather, she has suspended judgment about Hill’s future until more faculty are consulted and more considerations can be given.
During a faculty meeting in October, it became known that Hill’s demolition has been included on the university’s master plan since 2014. Under former president Dan DiBiasio’s administration, this was unknown by students, faculty, and even some board members for several years. This is important because it explains President Baumann’s initial dissolution with the pushback she received on Hill, saying “I thought [the students] knew.” A refresh of the university’s master plan is scheduled to begin in February, and is expected to take 6-9 months, at the end of which a plan will likely exist for Hill. Regardless of the outcome, Baumann has committed to a heightened level of transparency with the new plan. She has also promised that the departments which currently reside in Hill—History, Geography, and Political Science—will be cared for.
It is also important to consider the finances involved with the state of Hill Memorial. President Baumann says that estimates obtained in 2014 called for $10-$12 million to renovate the building. She now suspects the number will have risen to $20 million. If Hill were to be abandoned or demolished instead of renovated, this would be the reason.
Baumann is also faced with other items demanding university resources; she expressed in her opening remarks that the reroofing of the Meyers Hall of Science and the renovation of Kinghorn Sports Center are among the most pressing projects facing the university. In particular, she echoed several students’ concerns that use by sports teams has overcrowded the Kinghorn facilities. These objectives will have to be weighed against the renovation of Hill Memorial when deciding what to do with university finances.
In the same vein as the concerns over Hill, President Baumann was asked about the state of Esports by Maxwell Phillips, who plays on the Halo team. He says the Esports community feels its growth has been stunted by the university, particularly through being provided insufficient resources. While Baumann expresses her support and admiration for the massively successful Esports team, she is also concerned with an equitable distribution of funds among all 23 of ONU’s sports teams, suggesting that Esports may have received a disproportionate allocation of resources during COVID.
President Baumann also expressed her opinions about the promotion of non-STEM fields at Ohio Northern. One student asked her about how ONU will preserve its niche communities and fields, especially those in the humanities. While she appreciates the value of every field taught at ONU, Baumann feels that it would be just for the university to spend more resources on recruitment for the Engineering and Pharmacy programs, because they generate more revenue than most Arts and Sciences programs. She also points out that, on the student’s end, enrollment in one program does not preclude enrollment in other programs; one can take engineering AND dance, pharmacy AND communications, etc.
This is significant in part because it seems to be the inverse of her stance on Esports; while Baumann feels that athletics budgets ought to be dispensed equitably, she seems open to applying the practical financial considerations associated with pharmacy recruitment. Clearly, these two forces are at odds, and Baumann’s administration is in the process of reconciling the two into a workable medium. The refinement of this stance will be an item to look for as the year progresses.
President Baumann also touched on next year’s tuition increase, confirming the hike will be at 2.73%. While many students are upset with their tuition raising, this figure deserves some context. It will be the lowest tuition raise at Ohio Northern in six years, and is also considerably lower than the national inflation rate of 8.2%.
The other financial item at the forefront of the student body’s collective mind is the recently unveiled Forward Together fundraising campaign. Asked whether current students will see benefit from the campaign, Baumann says, “it depends.” Although 87% of the fundraising goal has been met, this does not mean the university has free reign over the funds. The campaign specifies the destination for most of the funds, and Baumann feels it would be unethical to spend the money elsewhere. Additionally, some donations are pledged before being paid out over time, making some of our money not “actualized” yet. The same restrictions are true of several other campaign donations.
In recognition of these constraints, the projects which demand university resources, and an attempt to keep tuition as low as possible, President Baumann is seeking to streamline the university and reduce its spending. For example, landscaping has replaced annual flowers with perennials to save money. As she learns more about the operations of the university, Baumann hopes to continue to find similar opportunities.
Throughout the evening, a few trends presented themselves about President Baumann’s philosophy in governing the university. She thinks critically and pragmatically about money. She appreciates both tradition and innovation, and seeks to reconcile the two. Above all, she is committed to transparency with the student body, and wants to hear from as many voices as possible. These principles, and their practical counterparts, will be a valuable framing as her administration continues to take root at Ohio Northern.